Cre­atives join forces at The Big Punch­bowl

The vast beauty of Fr­eycinet’s Big Punch­bowl is cap­tured by nine Aus­tralian pain­ters paired with nine poets at an ex­hi­bi­tion that shows art need not al­ways be a soli­tary pur­suit

Mercury (Hobart) - Magazine - - Up Front - WORDS HI­LARY BUR­DEN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY MATTHEW NEW­TON

The long Tas­ma­nian tra­di­tion of pain­ters pair­ing with poets was in­tro­duced to Ho­bart au­di­ences by the late Dick Bett and wife Carol in 1986 – as a way of de­vel­op­ing Bett Gallery’s au­di­ence. So, it was tempt­ing to think Dick’s spirit was hov­er­ing over the re­cent, stand­ing-room-only open­ing of the 2017 ver­sion, Poets & Pain­ters: Cel­e­brat­ing the Big Punch­bowl, at the Moonah Arts Cen­tre. The ex­hi­bi­tion has moved on to Bett Gallery, where it is on show now un­til Septem­ber 18.

In his open­ing re­marks, Pro­fes­sor Jamie Kirk­patrick, head of ge­og­ra­phy and en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia, re­called the gen­er­a­tion that “once drank at The Travs in the ’70s” (many of whom were in the room) and de­scribed Bett Gallery as “a long-time cre­ative cra­dle for life-af­firm­ing art”.

In the spring and sum­mer of 2016 and 2017, nine em­i­nent Aus­tralian pain­ters and nine poets vis­ited the Tas­ma­nian Land Con­ser­vancy’s Big Punch­bowl Re­serve on the Fr­eycinet Penin­sula. Work­ing in pairs as­signed with ju­di­cious care by cocu­ra­tors Carol Bett and poet Pete Hay, the artists’ chal­lenge was to cap­ture the land­scape of this 244ha wet­land oa­sis in po­etry and paint­ings.

The TLC has hosted artists on prop­er­ties in the past: the Skull­bone Ex­per­i­ment was in­spired by an­other of their 14 pri­vate re­serves at Skull­bone Plains in the Cen­tral High­lands. But this was the first time artists were taken “on re­treat” into a nat­u­ral area, and the first time ac­com­pa­nied by poets.

Hay knew the chal­lenge they were set­ting: “It’s quite a big ask to ask artists to co-cre­ate when any art is a very soli­tary en­deav­our.”

But he says what’s been cre­ated pre­sents ideas be­yond the con­fines of the gallery.

Over three days in late Oc­to­ber last year, artists camped in tents or were boarded lo­cally at Swan­wick and Friendly Beaches. A food van kept the group fed and wa­tered, while Devil’s Cor­ner, the neigh­bour­ing win­ery with views over the Big Punch­bowl re­serve, pro­vided lo­cal wines.

Some took pho­tographs; oth­ers sketched, walked and talked to­gether. The soloists wan­dered off on their own. They lis­tened to lo­cals who’d lived on the penin­sula, learnt about flora, fauna and wildlife ecol­ogy from TLC staff, and ap­pre­ci­ated how Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple might have sur­vived here on swan eggs and wal­laby.

At the end of the im­mer­sion, nine pairs of poets and pain­ters were given six months to cre­ate a body of work. The re­sults are fas­ci­nat­ing in their di­ver­sity – one ex­panse of wa­ter turns into so much more than what can be seen sim­ply by the hu­man eye.

Artist Thorn­ton Walker found the whole ex­panse of the place too much to take in, so chose to fo­cus on a de­tail that stopped him in his tracks: wal­laby bones among the trees he saw as “a shrine”. Poet Louise Ox­ley evoked the bones im­mac­u­lately as “a totem: white as east coast sand” in her poem Bones at Bar­ney Ward’s La­goon.

Poet Ben Wal­ter and artist Richard Wastell, both taken by the sound of the frogs and the abun­dance of life in the wa­ter, flush with rain for the first time in a decade, waded out across the Punch­bowl, mak­ing notes and sketches.

A few months later, Wastell says, Wal­ter sent him rough drafts of po­ems, one of which “cap­tured beau­ti­fully the feel­ing of that af­ter­noon on the la­goon”. Sedge­land Na­tion was in­cor­po­rated into Wastell’s epic panel “like sign­posts along a jour­ney”. He worked solidly on the char­coal draw­ing for four months.

Artist Sue Love­grove, paired with poet Adri­enne Eber­hard, says of the ex­pe­ri­ence: “So of­ten as an artist you sit in the stu­dio on your own and your head is cartwheel­ing with it­self. That ex­pe­ri­ence with an­other was con­nect­ing out­side of your own head. It was so spe­cial. We hardly com­mu­ni­cated – we were so well-tuned.” Eber­hard said they seemed to be kin­dred spir­its, shar­ing a love for small things, “like the way wind moves through grasses and the tex­tures of land­scapes”.

TLC chief ex­ec­u­tive Jane Hutchin­son de­scribed the show as in­no­va­tive and mo­ti­vated by cul­tural value. “It’s cre­at­ing not just eco­nomic value – these art­works are avail­able for sale – but also re­ally deep cul­tural con­nec­tions to place that peo­ple can take away with them and share,” she says. “Even if you don’t have the op­por­tu­nity to visit that place, it gives you the chance to say, ‘Wow, it must be re­ally spe­cial’.”

Back at the open­ing, poets read their po­ems in front of the paint­ing in­spired by mo­ments shared at the Punch­bowl. For­mer Glover Prize cu­ra­tor Jane Deeth said: “Col­lab­o­ra­tion is al­ways a slightly fraught space, with two kinds of minds work­ing to­gether in a mo­ment – what­ever that to­gether means. But, the over­all project of the TLC – as a gen­tle way of achiev­ing an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of pri­vate land­scapes – is price­less.”

Poets and Pain­ters: Cel­e­brat­ing The Big Punch­bowl, is show­ing at Bett Gallery, Ho­bart, un­til Mon­day, Septem­ber 18. The ex­hi­bi­tion is ac­com­pa­nied by a lim­ited-edi­tion book Punch­bowl. The artist pair­ings are Greg Lehman and Imants Tillers; Sarah Day and Ray­mond Arnold; Ben Wal­ter and Richard Wastell; Adri­enne Eber­hard and Sue Love­grove; James Charl­ton and Joan Ross; Lyn Reeves and Me­gan Walch; Louise Ox­ley and Thorn­ton Walker; Edith Speers and David Keel­ing; and Jan Colville and Lu­ci­enne Rickard

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